The Eyes of Labor Are Upon Us

The Eyes of Labor Are Upon Us

Hollywood’s writers and actors are giving new energy and a prominent voice to the struggles of workers everywhere.

When I heard Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, make the case for her union members, I was moved.

Did you know that 87% of SAG-AFTRA union members don’t qualify for health insurance? How much do they have to make to qualify? $26,000 a year. In other words, only a select few top earners make big money. Everyone else is barely getting by. This is a working person’s struggle for rights, respect, and compensation.

And the lords of the entertainment universe are not pleased…

“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger (who made $45.9 million in 2021) said, “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic.” What’s not realistic is the idea that income inequality will go unchallenged. It’s unrealistic to think that we “the people,” will continue to passively take whatever the corporations we support with our labor and our buying power dish out.

In her speech, Fran Drescher said:

It’s really important that this negotiation be covered because the eyes of the world, and particularly the eyes of labor are upon us. What happens here is important because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor by means when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.

Greed is a deadly disease. The good news is there’s a cure and the labor unions in this country have an outsized role to play in providing this cure.

“An entire system incentivized to exploit workers.” There’s nothing more American than that. Not when you consider that unpaid forced labor helped create countless American fortunes.

Tragically, the exploitation of workers of every race is woven into the fabric of this nation. You don’t need a degree in American history to know that American workers in meat-packing plants, in mines, and in garment factories (to name a few) have died in this struggle.

To highlight what Fran Drescher said in her rousing speech:

We stand in solidarity, in unprecedented unity. Our union and our sister unions and the unions around the world are standing by us, as well as other labor unions, because at some point the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored.
This is a moment of truth and inside of this truth, we can more clearly see how wrong things have gone in our corporations, our branches of government, our schools, and our media. We can see how broken we are and what widespread corruption and malfeasance does to society.

American freedom is a point of honor, but how free are people who work themselves to the bone, who neglect their mental and physical well-being, and who shirk their responsibilities at home? How free are people who work all day and yet they can barely afford rent, utilities, food, or medicine?
America is the richest nation on earth, and in my lifetime, this wealth has grown exponentially, particularly since the dawn of digital. What I have yet to see is an attendant growth in generosity from those who benefit most (or any legislation to make them pay their fair share of taxes, at the very least).

Income disparity today is ugly and alarming. On average, CEOs today receive about 398 times the annual average salary of production and non-supervisory workers in their firms. It’s disgusting and wrong, and it’s time to turn this tide. It’s time for workers to unite and demand fairer treatment for all.

Understand Trump’s Take On ‘Citizen Kane’ And You Understand The Man

Donald Trump’s favorite film is Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. Don has good taste in films. Or so it seems.

Citizen Kane is about an all-powerful man (modeled in part on William Randolph Hearst) who owns a chain of newspapers. He lives in a gigantic tower safely removed from the masses that he purports to serve. One could make a superficial reading of the film and conclude that Kane is an American business hero worth emulating. Or one could see the film as an indictment of American culture and the ravages of capitalism.

Let’s hear from the filmmaker himself:

“Kane was an attack on the acquisitive society,” said Welles.

Which brings us to Don’s reading of the film. Does the President-elect see Kane as a sympathetic character? Is Kane someone he might model his own empire-building life upon? Or does Don see Kane as a tragic figure trapped in his lonely tower and driven mad by ambition and greed?

Welles said, “I do feel that a man like Kane is very close to farce and very close to parody, very close to burlesque.”

Don claims to be a smart guy, and he did graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe he is smarter than he appears to be on TV. I wonder, does Don see Kane or himself as a farce? There is no evidence of that he does, despite his successful career in “reality” TV.

Netflix Encourages Binge Viewing With New Below The Beltway Series

It’s been one week and a day since the terribly disappointing season ending episode of “Downton Abbey.” I do like a well made dramatic series, so Downton’s seasonal close leaves a void. One we are attempting to fill by watching “House of Cards,” the newly released series from Netflix.

Already, Darby and I have consumed 11 of the 13 episodes, and we will likely watch the last two this evening. What’s interesting is Netflix intended us to watch the show this way. Instead of doling episodes out once a week, like network and cable TV have done for decades, Netlfix released all 13 episodes at one time on February 1, 2013.

“Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the show’s producer Beau Willimon told The New York Times in January.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Netflix Chief Content Office Ted Sarandos said, “The Internet is attuning people to get what they want when they want it,” Sarandos said. “‘House of Cards’ is literally the first show for the on-demand generation.”

The LA Times also notes that the absence of ads means that each episode has more time for story lines and relationships — as much as 15 more minutes of story per television hour. That’s an opportunity missed in my opinion. Some of the plot lines in the show are incredulous at best, and the portrayal of female journalists is outrageous — “I used to suck, screw, and jerk anything that moved just to get a story,” Janine tells Zoe over green curry. But let’s stay with the business side of the story here, and look at how Netflix came to the decision to develop and distribute their own content in the first place.

David Carr of the Times points to the company’s adept use of data.

Big bets are now being informed by Big Data, and no one knows more about audiences than Netflix. As a technology company that distributes and now produces content, Netflix has mind-boggling access to consumer sentiment in real time. Netflix looks at 30 million “plays” a day, including when you pause, rewind and fast forward, four million ratings by Netflix subscribers, three million searches as well as the time of day when shows are watched and on what devices.

I suppose the all the data did make it easier to invest in big stars like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and director David Fincher (he directed the first two episodes). But there’s also timeless storytelling here. In fact, Netflix is not the first to produce the Michael Dobbs novel. BBC aired a four-show run in 1990. Amazon Prime members can view the episodes here. The original programs are also available on YouTube.

How Adams’ Arrived At His Endless Horizons of Meaning

Thanks to advances in point-and-shoot technology, everyone’s a photographer today, or so we imagine. Of course, taking pictures for fun is a different practice altogether than making images of artistic quality with a camera.

For more information on the latter, please see the following documentary from 1958 about Ansel Adams’ technical approach to photography.

“Perhaps music is the most expressive of the arts,” suggests Adams. “However, as a photographer, I believe that creative photography, when practiced in terms of its inherent qualities, may also reveal endless horizons of meaning.” Indeed.

Adams proved his belief over and over again, as he traveled the American West with his marvelous eye and technical skills. He helped us see Yosemite and the West in new and unexpected ways. He helped us get to know and cherish our most magical lands. That he accomplished this with the help of technology goes without saying, but I marvel at the analog nature of it all and the manual labor involved.

We use our tools and our training to see the world and to make meaning of the world we see. It seems fair to ask how our modern technology is aiding or clouding our vision as artists and as people. Let’s consider that filmmakers Orson Wells and John Huston never had the benefits of digital cameras or editing suites. Same with Adams; yet the visions shared by these masters are impecable.

Likewise, America’s greatest writers are from a time before the widespread adoption of the computer. Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and hundreds of other American classics were not made with the powerful tools of our time. They were written longhand prior to being transcribed into a manuscript.

My point here is there’s something valuable to be gained by knowing, honoring and practicing the old ways. I’m not writing this article by longhand, nor am I putting it through several rounds of edits. Be that as it may, I know that process and revisit it frequently.

Source: Open Culture

We Need Magic In Our Lives, And The Magicians Who Provide It

We Need Magic In Our Lives, And The Magicians Who Provide It

On Friday, Darby and I took a trip to Eugene to celebrate Ken Kesey Day. We looked at old photos and other artifacts including Kesey’s prison journal (he served six months for a marijuana bust). We attended a reading where University of Oregon scholars read passages from unpublished works by Kesey and finally we attended the west coast premier of The Magic Trip, a new documentary film that restores original footage shot in 1964 by Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their journey from La Honda, California to New York City and back in the DayGlo-painted bus called “Further.”

It’s an extraordinary film, and a major achievement in editing by the filmmakers, Alex Gibney and Allison Ellwood. The Pranksters shot some 100 hours of footage on their coast-to-coast jaunt, but their audio and video rarely synced up (and there were other technical issues to address, as well). I’d say Gibney and Ellwood hit a home run, because the film is truly immersive. In fact, Ellwood said after the screening that she felt like she could smell the fumes from the bus at times.

Of course, many in the audience, myself included, were already familiar with the story. Tom Wolfe laid it out for all to see in his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It’s also the stuff of legend in Grateful Dead circles. Be that as it may, actually seeing the characters and hearing them is a gift. Finally, we have a sense for what it’s like to ride along with Neal Cassady at the wheel. We see the camaraderie between Ken Babbs and Kesey and other relationship dynamics (for instance, Kesey, or Swashbuckler to use his Prankster name, “steals” George Walker’s girlfriend after she gets on the bus in New York). The film also provides a great look at another time in America. Hippies did not yet exist in 1964, so while the Pranksters drew lots of curious onlookers, most had warm smiles on their faces. In other words, the American people were not scared by the Pranksters’ strangeness. That would come later, when the media, and other powers that be, enacted a smear campaign against free-thinking, freedom loving Americans.

There’s a passage in the film when Kesey talks about a writer needing to enjoy the process of writing a book, because the culmination of that process–the publishing part–isn’t much fun. It is worth noting that the idea to make this “travel film” was an attempt by Kesey to move beyond the confines of format. After all, his first two novels were huge literary successes. Why not push Further into another, more modern storytelling medium? That the Pranksters were filmmakers didn’t seem to matter to them. What mattered was the adventure and the pursuit.

That the group would manufacture its own drama was a given. Take Stark Naked–one Prankster who got a bit too high and wandered off into Larry McMurtry’s middle-class Houston neighborhood wrapped only in a blanket. She was picked up by the police and put into the psych ward. A friend from San Francisco had to come get her and take her home. Meanwhile, the Pranksters were unwittingly integrating a “colored” beach at Lake Pontchartrain, inadvertently leaving Babbs’ brother behind in Georgia, freaking Jack Kerouac out at a party in Manhattan and showing up at Tim Leary’s, where they failed to be welcomed except for the graciousness of Richard Alpert, a.k.a. Ram Daas.

As a literary device, I think the bus can be likened to Huck Finn’s raft. When the raft is the water, everybody’s safe and happy–that’s what going with the flow brings. When the raft pulls into harbor, trouble can ensue. That Kesey was made to serve time for a pot bust shortly after the bus trip culminated is an example of this. But even in the face of jail time, he managed to keep a positive outlook and he came out of the experience recommitted to his family and the work to be done at home in Oregon.

When Wolfe asked Kesey why he didn’t want to write anymore, Kesey said he’d “rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.” Kesey also said, “When people ask me what my greatest work is, it’s the bus. And they say, ‘Why the bus?’ It’s because the bus is a living piece of art where you’re out with the people and it’s happening right now, whereas writing, which is good, is removed.” Despite these sentiments, Kesey did continue to write. He also taught creative writing at U of O. In 1993, he published his third novel, Sailor Song, that may not reach the exalted heights of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, but it is a very good book, nevertheless.

After the film last night, the filmmakers were joined on stage by Kesey biographer, Robert Faggen, and by Pranksters Mountain Girl, Ed McClanahan and George Walker. Walker, dressed in a DayGlo jumpsuit and Cat in the Hat tophat was the liveliest of the bunch, but all seemed to delight in the moment. The events in the movie happened 47 years ago, but the need to remember those events and the thoughts that created them and flowed from them are as important as ever. Personally, I feel reinvigorated to push for higher ground. For me that means getting my “real writer, not ad writer” self moving in the right direction again. For others it could mean just about anything. Anything, that is, that has to do with stretching oneself to be more compassionate, more vital and more involved. Kesey once said, “If it doesn’t uplift the human heart, piss on it.”

Note: University of Oregon is seeking funds to help purchase the Ken Kesey Collection and keep it in its current home, the UO Knight Library, as Kesey wished.

Friday Night Variety: Comedy, Music And Conversation

Portland is home to several live storytelling events. There’s Mortified, BackFence PDX, Ignite Portland and Live Wire! Radio, to name a few.

Last night, we attended the taping of Live Wire! episodes 144 and 145 at Alberta Rose Theatre, near our home in Northeast Portland. The guests included Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch, Author André Dubus III, Filmmaker Matt McCormick, Roey Thorpe, and musical guests Tony Furtado and Priory. Plus the cast of Live Wire! which is entertaining in its own right. I especially liked the poems written during the show by Scott Poole. After the show, I bought Poole’s book The Cheap Seats for $10 at the table out front.

Host Courtenay Hameister’s conversation with Harvard-educated Rauch was, for me, the best part of the show. Rauch is an impressive man doing unbelievable work in Ashland. I’ve only been to one play in Ashland thus far, but I’m motivated to go back for many more. Rauch spoke eloquently about the need to support the arts and he’s right. Art creates culture. He also provided some perspective on the uniqueness of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which annually produces eleven plays on three stages during a season that lasts from February to October. OSF is the largest company of actors in the U.S. and Rauch reminded the audience that all classic plays were once new plays given birth in the nurturing environment of repertory theater. OSF is committed to the production of new plays under Rauch’s guidance and I’m excited to know that the power of live theater is alive and well in Southern Oregon (and that the ripples made there reach far out to other lands).

Here’s a look at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2011 season:

To download past episodes of Live Wire! Radio, visit the show’s iTunes podcast catalog.

By the way, members of the audience are asked to submit haikus on pre-determined topics and the cast then chooses a handful of them to read aloud during the performance. Darby’s haiku was not chosen, but she’s got a talent for the short form.

Geek Love invites us
to hula hoops and freak shows
Please show me your tail

I did not turn a haiku on a given topic in to one of the designated haiku hotties, but maybe I can make up for it here.

Quirky OPB
Portlandia radio
Nice variety

Writers Grapple With New Media, Too Often Failing To Understand It

Novelist and NYU creative writing professor, Zadie Smith, went to see The Social Network and came away with some thoughts on the film and Facebook that she shares in a New York Review of Books piece called Generation Why?

Smith is a fan of the film but she doesn’t “Like” Facebook.

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

In other words, you can’t reduce the richness of life into a series of posts to one’s Wall. That’s what literary fiction and films are for!

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor for thinks he understands Smith’s aversion.

When professional writers, especially ones trained in the literary arts, see horrifically bad writing online, they recoil. All their training about the value of diverse (or, you know, heteroglossic) societies and the equality of classes goes flying out the window.

In other words, professional writers are elitists who can’t relate. Which is odd, given that it is a writer’s job to relate and to retell what people (real and otherwise) are going through with compassion and sensitivity.

Bottom line, it’s not the platform but the people who use it who are responsible for content. I wonder if storytellers from the oral tradition long ago vehemently resisted the use of writing to falsely preserve what was meant to be an organic experience. Probably. And how did the 19th century’s literary masters see the arrival of the telephone? Was it viewed as an imminent threat to the written form? Most likely.

I understand that Smith and others are attempting to confront what they see as frightening changes to our concepts of personal identity and privacy. But this is also about the exchange of ideas through writing and I think we need to recognize where the literary opportunities lie in new media. Facebook and Twitter are platforms for “talking,” not writing. Blogs on the other hand are ideal for writing. A blog post unwritten is the exact same blank page writers have faced for generations. The big difference is the expedited publishing available that electronic media provides. But even this is by choice. A writer can choose to save draft after draft until she is ready to push “Publish,” just like the craftsmen of old. Of course, not every writer does this–I for one unwittingly publish misspelled words and other grammatical errors, and that may well be a blemish on my writing house, but I see electronic media as flexible, and fixable. Unlike print, it’s not “done” when it’s printed. Electronic text can be updated, or rewritten as needed. I hope that’s not seen as an excuse for sloppiness, because that’s not my intention. I merely want to point out how each medium a writer works in has its own rules, and we’re still finding our way through this seemingly infinite new galaxy.

Wine In The Glass, Film In The Camera

A group of filmmakers from Corvallis are in production on a documentary about Willamette Valley and Pacific Northwest winemakers.

Vino Veritas: An American Wine Movie is slated for release in 2012. But before that can happen, the team needs funding and they’re using Kickstarter and local events to reach out to fans of the project.

According to Gazette Times, David Baker, an Oregon State University employee in multimedia web production, and three filmmaking friends brainstormed this summer.

We want to focus on the local level, but we also want to make it national,” Baker said. “And we’re not just looking at the wine-makers. We’re focusing on the wine geeks and wine lovers, too.”

The Wire Is TV As Dissent

Darby and I have been intently viewing seasons one through four of HBO’s The Wire (care of Netflix), which leaves just season five to go. I’m afraid we’re already dreading the end of the series. We don’t want it to end, the way you don’t want a great novel to end. But end it must.

In preparation for this coming conclusion of what one critic calls the “greatest TV show ever made,” I’ve begun searching for and processing the criticism.

Mark Bowden of The Atlantic called the show’s co-creator, David Simon, “the angriest man in television.” In an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Simon says he doesn’t mind “being called that” and asks rhetorically if there’s a better response to the America of the last decade.

Bowden also makes note of the literary form advanced by The Wire.

Some years ago, Tom Wolfe called on novelists to abandon the cul-de-sac of modern “literary” fiction, which he saw as self-absorbed, thumb-sucking gamesmanship, and instead to revive social realism, to take up as a subject the colossal, astonishing, and terrible pageant of contemporary America. I doubt he imagined that one of the best responses to this call would be a TV program, but the boxed sets blend nicely on a bookshelf with the great novels of American history.

It’s a point well taken. I’ve often thought that Shakespeare, were he alive today, would be successful in Hollywood. It’s also interesting to understand Simon’s background as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. For 12 years the man told detailed, well researched, fact-filled stories, but those stories didn’t change policy in City Hall, Annapolis or Washington, DC. Simon isn’t holding his breath to see these changes come as a result of his TV show either. He sees the problems in America (like the failed War on Drugs that his show dramatizes) as systemic, and argues that conditions will have to become much worse before they get better.

Here, let’s listen to the man:

Simon says our economy doesn’t need the underclass, and that’s why these urban black communities have been pushed completely from the frame of American life. He’s right about the extreme marginalization, but I would counter that this nation does need the underclass and that poor, under-educated workers can become productive and change their station in life and possibly the country’s future in the process.

President Obama is conducting a “jobs summit” this week to help spur jobs training and jobs creation. In my opinion, we need to get off our collective ass now and institute a 1930s-style public works program. It doesn’t take a genius to see how much work there is to do. The nation’s roads and bridges need repairs and we must build high speed rail from Seattle to San Diego and from Miami to Boston. Moving to energy, the nation’s entire electrical grid needs to be refitted to store and conduct DC current produced by solar and wind. And the list goes on. Meanwhile, little progress is made.

In one episode of The Wire, “Bunny,” of Baltimore city police, says he doesn’t know what the answer is to getting kids off the corner and returning the streets to the citizens of Baltimore, only that it can’t be a lie. That’s correct, and it can’t be a lie in real life. Yet, empire is a lie. The wars to maintain it are a lie. The war on drugs is a lie. Saying we don’t have the resources nor the will to house the homeless, feed the hungry and care for the uninsured is a lie.

It’s easy to get fired up by The Wire, and that art’s role in society—to challenge us, to make us think, and help us to care. On these fronts, HBO’s gritty crime drama is a huge success.

Oregon Creatives Get Their Group On

Oregon Creatives Get Their Group On

Laura Oppenheimer of The Oregonian put together a feature article on the efforts being made by Portland’s various creative communities to unite and successfully promote themselves.

salon owner, Kahala Orian, sporting a knitty

Here, Oppenheimer shows the two ends of the local spectrum:

If you picture the creative economy as a continuum from corporate giants to part-time artists, Nike inhabits one end. Oregon’s largest company employs more than 6,000 people at its headquarters, on a college-size campus near Beaverton.

A notch away from Nike is the advertising firm that branded it: Wieden+Kennedy. Columbia Sportswear Co. and Adidas USA round out the huge names. A slew of midsize companies design clothing, sports equipment and buildings, make movies and computer games, and promote it all to the world.

To explore the other end of the continuum, you could’ve walked down Southeast Belmont Street last weekend, past coffee shops and neighborhood bars, across from a retro arcade and a vegetarian diner, into KOiPOD salon. The owner, Kahala Orian, hosted a craft show called Handmade for the Holidays.

More than 20 entrepreneurs covered card tables with knit hats, soy candles and hand-stitched pillows, while a DJ wearing giant silver headphones spun tunes.

The article also explores how Steve Gehlen and Tad Lukasik are launching Oregon Creative Industries “to connect people online and in person, lobby for resources to help business grow, and to make creativity the state’s economic signature.”

OCI is a startup in the non-profit sector. They’re looking for volunteers to help grow the business, if you’re interested.